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Fiction

2019

‘That August Song’ in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. For ages uncounted, humanity is defended from the monsters of sea by pilot-priests, who combat them within the living weapons known as vanquishers. Mecha fantasy.

‘Where Machines Run with Gold’ in The Future Fire. A soldier takes on a beheading dare and comes to meet her agreed-upon sentence in a small, strange city. Space opera Sir Gawain and the Green Knight retelling, takes place in the same universe as And Shall Machines Surrender.

‘Then Will the Sun Rise Alabaster’. On a remote planet, a convent harbors a deadly secret buried beneath quiet violence–a secret that the woman known only as the Alabaster Admiral will obtain at any cost. A story from the perspective of a young woman forced into religion by violent imperialism. Takes place after ‘Where Machines Run With Gold’ but before And Shall Machines Surrender.

‘Tiger, Tiger Bright’ in The Dark Magazine. A woman in contemporary Bangkok harbors a lifelong curse. A woman who calls herself a tiger offers help.

2018

‘The Five Secret Truths of Demonkind‘ in Big Echo. The earth is cursed; humans are doomed to become monsters. A demon breaches virtue’s fortress in search of God.

‘Red as Water, White as Ruin’ in Mythic Delirium. An expedition journeys to a land devastated by an unknown apocalypse, navigating an impossible curse and an impossible survivor. Secondary-world horror/dark fantasy.

‘The Owls of Juttshatan’. On a cold world of slow-moving terns, a child grows in the shadow of her mother the war hero. She is a creature of peace, raised in quiet among maps and dreams and owls. But she can be more, if she chooses. A space opera novelette of brutal bildungsroman. Prequel to ‘Autodidact’

2017

‘You and I Shall be as Radiant’. Hu Feilin is a survivor of genocide, one of the last of her world. She knows of only one other, her sister Hu Liyan, a child selected by the tyrants for military training. To get Liyan back, Feilin will overcome anything: ancient ghosts, a genocidal army—or her own sister’s wish.

‘After-Swarm’. In the far future, soldiers are sent to fight a proxy war on a distant planet to solve the question: who owns Earth? But with the war resolved, soldiers no longer have a use. Emilia, once valued for her machine affinity, must return to the life she left behind and face a world ordered anew.

‘No Pearls as Blue as These’ in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Bidaten is a bulwark, one of those bred as living weapons to fight horrors from beyond the high, vast walls that keep humanity safe from monsters. Duty is all she knows until her lord brings home a beautiful foreign bride.

‘Fade to Gold’ in Pseudopod (audio reprint). Narrated by Jen Zink.

‘The Universe as Vast as Our Longings’ in The Jewish Mexican Literary Review. In a far future, a country of tyrants conquers a world and takes in its children to raise as willing collaborators. When all you have is nothing, living itself is resistance. 6,200 words.

‘The Sun Shall Lie Across Us Like Gold’ in Clockwork Cairo (ed. Matthew Bright, Twopenny Press). Post-colonial steampunk in 19th century Thailand. Sequel to ‘The Governess and We’. 3,500 words.

‘Parable of the Cocoon’ in Big Echo. When the aliens came it was not to invade, but to uplift humanity for the purposes of an inscrutable war. Human subjects are selected for alien communion, given to perceive time in parallax… or perhaps something else entirely. 5,800 words.

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Year-End Reading and Writing Things

This year I picked up exactly 20 books to read and finished 11 of them. This is primarily an issue of quality; most of the books I tried (both in and outside my preferred genres) were just not very good, with most of them being quite incredibly bad. Various others were merely mediocre.

I finally got around to reading the Aud Torvingen books by Nicola Griffith properly and am very pleased with them. I’m just at the beginning of Always but don’t feel my judgment of these books will change. They’re books about a butch lesbian sort of private investigator, who’s an ex-cop, fabulously wealthy, hypercompetent and very aloof. Aud believes all problems can be solved either by money, cold calculation, or violence; she mellows and becomes a better person here and there, but the core of her character is sharp and icy and interesting. The books also have excellent nature writing, always a plus, and the prose is brilliantly stylish.

While I had issues with it, Oyeyemi’s Gingerbread was one of the highlights of the year, along with Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. The latter is absolutely brutal and doesn’t have what you’d call a happy ending.

One of the absolute reading low points of this year was Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments. Which is amazingly bad to the point of nearly incomprehensible: Atwood’s prose is usually much better than this. The book’s incredibly let down by the presence of two teenage girls’ POVs who are not very intelligent or very distinguishable from similar characters from a lot of other books. Aunt Lydia is a horrible person but at least she’s interesting.

For anime, here’s my year-end recommendation.

  • The Case Files of Lord El-Melloi II
  • Psycho-Pass: Sinners of the System Cases 1-3
  • Psycho-Pass: Season 3
  • Vinland Saga (it’s not amazing but it’s not horrible)
  • Kimetsu no Yaiba
  • Granbelm (a real dark horse: who knew Fate meet Madoka meet mecha, but lesbian, could be so good?)

My writing

For my own work, this year I had a small number of new short stories out, ‘That August Song’ in Beneath Ceaseless Skies; ‘Where Machines Run with Gold’ in The Future Fire , ‘Then Will the Sun Rise Alabaster’ and ‘Tiger, Tiger Bright’ in The Dark Magazine. These are all pretty different stuff, respectively one secondary-world mecha fantasy (what if Darling in the Franxx didn’t suck and was also lesbian?), space opera (tie-in short stories to the Machine Mandate setting, where And Shall Machines Surrender takes place), and contemporary dark fantasy.

In terms of books, I had two out or forthcoming this year! One is And Shall Machines Surrendera cyberpunk neo-noir where two ex-military lesbian cyborgs grapple with trouble in an AI-ruled utopia and find out… a lot. It’s a new setting, and I intend to write more in it, other than the two short stories linked above.

The other is Mirrorstrike, the sequel to my 2017 lesbian Snow Queen retelling, now up for preorder. Probably a good antidote if you’re especially sick of hearing about Frozen 2. The sequel is considerably longer than book one, and is the first time I really write a sequel to anything, so… please look forward to it! Nuawa and Lussadh are fine. They’ll be so fine in book two.

Story notes for August 2019

After a very long content draught, I have a bunch of new stories out this month to follow up the release of And Shall Machines Surrender last month. August: it’s full of lesbians!

‘Tiger, Tiger Bright’

While werewolves are ubiquitous in urban fantasy, in Southeast Asian mythology weretigers are more of a staple (and in fact wolf-related things are absent entirely, as wolves are not naturally present here). So this is a weretiger story, but also a story about transformation. I’ve left things ambiguous here, and if you like short, long-toothed horror that’s told in tight second-person, this one’s for you. It’s still lesbian. All my fiction is. Review from Charles Payseur.

‘Where Machines Run with Gold’

The first Alabaster Admiral story! I’ve been waiting for this one to publish for a while. It’s a return to my more ornate kind of space opera, so it’s of a different genre to the cyberpunk noir of And Shall Machines Surrender, which is appropriate given that Anoushka is more suited to space opera than anything. This takes place long before ASMS, and at a point in time where the Alabaster Admiral doesn’t even hold that title yet. This is also a retelling of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which I feel lends itself to just this sort of thing–ornate space opera, mysterious lords, the shadow of war to come. In and of itself, Green Knight in the original text is a story set around festivity, but it’s contextualized by the greater Arthuriana (and the shadow of Morgan le Fay, in this case). I changed the core themes substantially: in the poem, Gawain is the ultimate virgin who declines to succumb to Bertilak’s wife, and is innocent to the nature of the game being played (in addition to being a devout Christian). Anoushka is… very different, in that she’s completely wise to what is going on–though not as wise as the Bertilak figure–and she is about the opposite of virginal. I’ve described her as a ‘supersoldier turbodomme’, and she’s quick to take advantage of how neglected and frustrated Dushann’s wife is. This is also my most densely sexy story to date, to the point it can probably called smutty. What can I say, Anoushka is a hungry woman.

If you’ve read the book and wonder whether Dushann is who you think ze is, the answer is yep.

‘That August Song’ 

The obvious influences for this story are Darling in the Franxx and Pacific Rim, but I also drew on RahXephon for the song aspect. It’s a mecha fantasy story, and in a lot of ways–in terms of narrative shape and plot direction–it charts fairly new ground for me. Cocky bisexual pilot! Song priestesses with eldritch anatomy who love cocky pilots! Tizeva was an enormous fun to write, and Sanenya is a good foil for her, dutiful and reserved to Tizeva’s brash self-assurance. The eldritch anatomy (Sanenya has… a few more mouths than average) is something I might play with again some other time (whether in fantasy or SF context). Charles Payseur reviewed it here.

A guide to watching Fate/stay night

Fate is hell. There’s a massive giga-load of it. It’s stupid. It’s still not as stupid as western superhero comics, though. However, there’s still way too much of the thing, so here is a guide on what to watch (somewhat in chronological order).

Kara no Kyoukai: not Fate-related, but very good. Part horror, part psychological mystery, all violent. Features Ryougi Shiki, the only good female protagonist Nasu Kinoko has ever written (he has written no other female protagonist) and probably his best female character, a hyperviolent descendant of a demon-hunting clan who can perceive the faultline in mortality and is therefore capable of killing anything. She is peripherally relevant to the Fate franchise in that she appears in Fate/Grand Order, the mobile gacha game. Content warning for KnK includes onscreen sexual assault (of both men and women) and the death of a trans character (being one of the people who inhabit Shiki’s body; Shiki herself is a cis woman). Strangely, most people who are anyone in Kara no Kyoukai are women and Shiki’s love interest, Mikiya, is canonically pansexual (or at least professes to be neutral to Shiki’s gender, which he at certain points isn’t too sure about).

Main Fate ‘timeline’

  1. Fate/zero (2011, Ufotable). Prequel. Content notes for child abuse, child neglect, slaughter of children, and one instance of implied CSA (Matou Sakura). Other acts of violence include multiple men choking women and one instance of a woman breaking a man’s fingers while he is helpless.
  2. Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works (2014, Ufotable). A TV series that depicts one of the story ‘routes’. Content notes for attempted sexual assault (a man gropes a woman’s knees and thighs).
  3. Fate/stay night: Heaven’s Feel – presage flower (2017, Ufotable). Content notes for domestic abuse, sexual assault as both child and teenager. A trilogy of movies that depicts the Heaven’s Feel story ‘route’. Consider this a sort of reboot of Unlimited Blade Works that takes the story in a very different, much more horror-esque direction. The story diverges pretty early on and the films assume you’ve watched Unlimited Blade Works and also, ideally, Fate/zero.
  4. Fate/stay night: Heaven’s Feel – lost butterfly (2019, Ufotable). Content notes for domestic abuse, sexual assault as both child and teenager, and one instance of on-screen attempted rape (includes a man tearing off a woman’s clothes and pushing her down on a bed).
  5. Fate/stay night: Heaven’s Feel – spring song (2020, Ufotable).

Ignore anything ufotable didn’t make. Seriously. The Studio DEEN version isn’t even acknowledged as a real thing anymore. Let’s not even think about that one.

Fate spin-offs

  1. The Case Files of Lord El-Melloi II: Rail Zeppelin Grace Note (2019, Troyca). A distant sequel to Fate/zero, starring Waver Velvet, one of the masters in its grail war (and really the only survivor). Takes place about a decade after Zero, a relatively low-key (so far) story of Waver being a mage detective who solves minor mysteries in London, accompanied by his apprentice Gray, whose face gives him PTSD on account of looking identical to Artoria’s.
  2. Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family (ufotable). Slice-of-life ‘joke’ series about cooking featuring the cast of Fate/stay night.

This is it. Watch nothing else. I do mean it–you will absolutely regret trying anything else outside this list, because the rest of the stuff is either quite wretched or very creepy-gross. Eventually and inevitably there will be an adaptation of the light novel/manga series Fate/strange fake, but until then nothing else is worth watching. Sorry. (I like Fate/Extra: Last Encore but it’s an acquired taste and, for the most part, makes no fucking sense.)

Behind the Book: And Shall Machines Surrender

I’m getting into the tradition of writing out some world-building notes and asides for my books, and this is as good a time as any to start. And Shall Machines Surrender is available now, incidentally, in ebook or paperback from AmazonBarnes and NobleiBooks, and Kobo.

These are partly summaries of what is already in the text, and partly what is extra-text (elaboration on some background details) or concern material that’ll be explored/elaborated on in short stories. There are no spoilers.

  • The name for this universe/setting is the Machine Mandate, since I needed a collective term to refer to the tie-in short stories. (There will be at least two, both long novelettes.)
  • The haruspices of Shenzhen Sphere are humans who share their bodies with newly made AIs. (Why do the AIs want to do this? Read the book and find out, etc.) Application to become a haruspex is competitive. A haruspex is treated as the foremost class of citizens to the point of worship. The blending of AI and human into a single body is done by implants, multiple surgeries, and very extensive modifications.
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Summer 2019 anime first impressions

Dr. Stone is a post-apocalyptic show set in the aftermath of humanity all simultaneously turning to stone. Interesting premise, but unfortunately it has an issue of looking, and feeling, and sounding so retro that I thought it was an adaptation of some truly ancient manga. Instead it turns out the author usually draws porn, which explains why the female characters look so horrific (I understand they look worse in the manga) while the male ones look good and well-designed. Despite this screenshot, the green hair kid is a massive homophobe who’s nervous about his male friend hugging him while half-naked. He’s also quite insufferable. I might watch another episode, but most likely I’ll drop this one.

Enen no Shouboutai is a show about a super-powered firefighting force (surprisingly, not as niche as it sounds) and, so far, is very good. The visuals are attractive, the animation is slick, I love the art style. Even the protagonist’s tragic backstory is done very stylishly! It’s just pleasing to look at, and while there’s minor fanservice the female characters seem promising, and the ensemble cast looks like it’ll work out well. I’m optimistic about this one.

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Cyberpunk: Genre Boundaries, Revisionism, and Gatekeeping

I’ve been discoursing on cyberpunk for a few threads, so I thought I’d put my thoughts together.

(You can also buy my lesbian cyberpunk in space book. Which, according to the definitions laid out below, wouldn’t be cyberpunk either! Woo.)

My gripe with the discourse is that it concerns cyberpunk as conceived and written and produced by white westerners; I was surprised to learn, for example, that cyberpunk is dead because… er… according to a white person who has never consumed cyberpunk by anyone who’s not a white man, it’s dead because er… it failed to solve capitalism? Look: the function of fiction is not, and has never been, pure didacticism. Its function is not solely to warn or predict, or provide solutions–if you want to do those things directly, I very much recommend making political pamphlets! Do real-life activism! Run for office! Did you know ‘non-white’ people don’t call our work cyberpunk? Ever? Yeah, that’s news to me too. We’re so lucky to have a white person telling us what’s what. Anyway, I think the people involved in this project will be surprised to learn cyberpunk is dead, actually.

Continue reading “Cyberpunk: Genre Boundaries, Revisionism, and Gatekeeping”